Tonga Volcanic Eruption Sends Ash Exploding From Sea

Associated Press in Nuku'alofa, Tonga
March 19, 2009

An undersea volcano is erupting in the Tonga islands, shooting clouds of volcanic smoke, steam, and ash thousands of feet into the sky above the South Pacific ocean.

RAW VIDEO



Authorities said Thursday the volcanic eruption does not pose any danger to Tonga islanders at this stage, and there have been no reports of fish or other animals being affected.

Spectacular columns are spewing out of the sea about 6 miles (10 kilometers) from Tonga's main island of Tongatapu—an area where up to 36 undersea volcanoes are clustered, geologists said (Tonga map).

Trade winds continued to blow volcanic gas and steam away from the island Thursday.

Taniela Faletau, deputy commander of the Tonga police force, said coastal villages close to the roiling ocean site were not yet at risk from the volcanic eruption. No warnings have been issued.

Scientists and government officials sailed Thursday to inspect the volcano, and police are waiting for the team's observations before taking any action.

Coastal residents said the volcanic steam and ash column first appeared on Monday morning, after a series of sharp earthquakes were felt in Tonga's capital, Nuku'alofa.

"This is not unusual for this area and we expect this to happen here at any time," said Keleti Mafi, Tonga's geological service head.

The underwater volcanic eruption was taking place near the low-lying twin volcanic islands of Hunga Tonga and Hunga Ha'apai, within sight of Nuku'alofa.

Large amounts of pumice thrown up by the volcanic eruption would likely clog beaches on the southern coast of the nearby Fiji Islands within a short time, Mafi said.

Tonga, a 170-island archipelago about halfway between Australia and Tahiti, is part of the Pacific Ring of Fire—an arc of earthquake and volcanic zones stretching from Chile in South America through Alaska and down through Vanuatu to Tonga.

(Related: "Giant Undersea Volcano Found Off Iceland.")

Copyright 2009 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

ADVERTISEMENT

NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC'S PHOTO OF THE DAY

NEWS FEEDS     After installing a news reader, click on this icon to download National Geographic News's XML/RSS feed.   After installing a news reader, click on this icon to download National Geographic News's XML/RSS feed.

Get our news delivered directly to your desktop—free.
How to Use XML or RSS

National Geographic Daily News To-Go

Listen to your favorite National Geographic news daily, anytime, anywhere from your mobile phone. No wires or syncing. Download Stitcher free today.
Click here to get 12 months of National Geographic Magazine for $15.